Bill Bavasi gets ripped, and rightly so, for his high-profile whiffs in the free-agent market, the Carlos Silvas, Richie Sexsons and Rich Aurilias of the world.
But to me, a bigger pitfall of the former Mariner GM’s reign was his inability to import talent in trades and under-the-radar signings. The way I always put it is, he rarely, if ever, found any hidden gems, the kind of acquisitions that can really advance a team.
I’m not talking about drafting here; that’s a conversation for another day. I’m talking about players to be named later, or the prospect no one heard of coming back in return for a veteran dumped at the trade deadline. I’m talking about the seemingly minor trades that bust out for one team, or the veteran signed to a minor-league contract and invited to camp, then blossoming into a productive major-leaguer. I’m talking about Ken Williams of the White Sox sending minor-league infielder Chris Carter to Arizona last offseason for an under-performing outfielder named Carlos Quentin, who promptly turns into an MVP candidate. Or the Cardinals signing minor-league free agent Ryan Ludwick in 2006, and having him become an All-Star in 2008. Or the Rangers leveraging Mark Teixeira into four major pieces in their rebulding — shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and pitchers Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison.
Every team seems to have a few of these — maybe not hitting on them so spectacularly as those examples, but unearthing some very useful players. Bavasi, however, seemed more adept at providing the hidden gem — an Asdrubal Cabrera or Shin-Soo Choo here, a Matt Thornton or Jorge Campillo there. But the encouraging thing for Mariners fans is that Bavasi’s successor, Jack Zduriencik, who made his name as a scout, already has shown a knack for unearthing talent.
I’m thinking specifically of the David Aardsma deal, in which he sent Class A pitcher Fabian Williamson to Boston for a guy that everyone agreed had a world of talent but had never quite put it together. Now he has — Aardsma has a 1.25 ERA in 21 games, with 10 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .147 opponents batting average. Fabian Williamson may yet turn into Bob Gibson , and Aardsma may revert to the erratic form of his earlier career — trade evaluations often veer in unexpected directions over time — but for now, this looks like a major steal for Zduriencik. And it looks like Jason Vargas, one of the throw-ins in the J.J. Putz trade, might fall into this category as well, though it’s a little premature to call him a “find” after just three starts. (UPON FURTHER REFLECTION, AS SUGGESTED BY GEOFF TODAY ON MITCH LEVY’S KJR RADIO SHOW, I SHOULD ALSO INCLUDE RUSS BRANYAN IN THE CATEGORY OF ”HIDDEN GEM” UNEARTHED BY ZDURIENCIK.)
Still, Zduriencik looks like his reputation is accurate — he knows talent. Just look at the Milwaukee Brewers’ seemingly endless storehouse of minor-league talent for further proof of that fact. And that bodes well as the Mariners are now likely poised to enter the trade market in the coming weeks with valuable trade chips like Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn and Adrian Beltre. Bavasi had a similar opportunity in 2004 with Freddy Garcia. His deal with the White Sox (for catcher Miguel Olivo, outfielder Jeremy Reed and infielder Mike Morse) looked good on paper, and was generally praised, but it fizzled. Olivo never developed into their catcher of the future, as expected; Reed never became an every-day outfielder, as hoped; and Morse has yet to become a consistent major-leaguer. Garcia, on the other hand, helped pitch the White Sox to a World Series title.
Bavasi, according to my research of his deals, really came away with two only “hidden gems.” One was Sean Green, whom he picked up from Colorado on Dec. 20, 2004 for reliever Aaron Taylor. Taylor was never heard from again, while Green became a real workhorse on the Mariners’ staff and was part of the Putz trade. The other was Sean White, acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh in 2006 after the Pirates selected White out of the Atlanta organization in the Rule 5 draft. White looks like he’s developing into a quality reliever. But other than pitchers named Sean with a color for a last name, the record is not so hot (although Bavasi may yet hit on Andrew Baldwin, who came from the Phillies in the Jamie Moyer trade in August of 2006; in eight starts for Tacoma this year, Baldwin is 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA. I’ll also give the Bavasi regime credit for scoping out Chris Jakubauskus in the indy leagues in 2007. And upon further consideration, I’ll throw Roy Corcoran, signed as a minor-league free agent in November of 2007, on this list as well.).
However, we won’t even get into Horacio Ramirez for Rafael Soriano, or the Erik Bedard deal, which speak eloquently for themselves.
Here is a complete look at Bavasi’s trades after he was hired on Nov. 7, 2003: (note that in some cases, the “player to be named” has been lost to posterity, but I’d wager to say in those cases they weren’t significant).
Dec. 15, 2003: Acquired OF Quinton McCracken from Arizona for Greg Colbrunn and cash.
Jan. 6, 2004: Acquired RHP Kevin Jarvis, IF Dave Hansen, C Wiki Gonzalez and OF Dave Faison from San Diego for INF Jeff Cirillo and RHP Brian Sweeney.
Jan. 8, 2004: Acquired INF Ramon Santiago and SS Juan Gonzalez from Detroit for IF Carlos Guillen.
April 3, 2004: Acquired INF Jolbert Cabrera from Dodgers for RHP Aaron Looper and LHP Ryan Ketchner.
June 27, 2004: Acquired C Miguel Olivo, OF Jeremy Reed and INF Mike Morse from White Sox for RHP Freddy Garcia, C Ben Davis, and cash considerations.
July 19, 2004: Traded Rich Aurilia to San Diego for player to be named and cash considerations.
July 30, 2004: Acquired RHP Jon Huber from San Diego for IF Dave Hansen.
Aug. 6, 2004: Traded LHP Mike Myers to Boston for a player to be named and cash considerations.
Aug. 31, 2004: Acquired OF B.J. Garbe from Minnesota for C Pat Borders.
Nov. 19, 2004: Traded LHP Randy Williams to San Diego for INF Billy Hogan.
Dec. 20, 2004: Acquired RHP Sean Green from Colorado for RHP Aaron Taylor.
May 19, 2005: Acquired C Pat Borders from Milwaukee for cash considerations.
July 30, 2005: Traded OF Randy Winn to San Francisco for RHP Jesse Foppert and C Yorvit Torrealba.
July 30, 2005: Traded C Miguel Olivo to San Diego for RHP Natanael Mateo and C Miguel Ojeda.
July 31, 2005: Traded LHP Ron Villone to Florida for RHP Yorman Bazardo and RHP Mike Flannery.
Dec. 7, 2005: Traded C Yorvit Torrealba to Colorado for player to be named (RHP Marcos Carvajal).
March 20, 2006: Acquired OF Joe Borchard from White Sox for LHP Matt Thornton.
June 30, 2006: Acquired INF Eduardo Perez from Cleveland for INF Adrubal Cabrera.
July 6, 2006: Traded LHP Eddie Guardado to Cincinnati with cash considerations for RHP Travis Chick.
July 26, 2006: Acquired 1B/DH Ben Broussard from Cleveland for OF Shin-Soo Choo.
Aug. 20, 2006: Traded LHP Jamie Moyer to Philadelphia for RHP Andrew Baldwin and RHP Andrew Barb.
Dec. 7, 2006: Acquired RHP Sean White from Pittsburgh for cash considerations.
Dec. 7, 2006: Acquired LHP Horacio Ramirez from Atlanta for RHP Rafael Soriano.
Dec. 18, 2006: Acquired INF Jose Vidro from Washington for OF Chris Snelling and RHP Emiliano Fruto.
April 1, 2007: Acquired OF Jason Ellison from San Francisco for LHP Travis Blackley.
May 15, 2007: Acquired RHP Jason Davis from Cleveland for a player to be named (Gregorio Rosario).
Aug. 9, 2007: Acquired LHP John Parrish from Baltimore for OF Sebastien Boucher and player to be named.
Feb. 8, 2008: Acquired LHP Erik Bedard from Baltimore for OF Adam Jones, LHP George Sherrill, LHP Tony Butler, RHP Chris Tillman, and RHP Kam Mickolio.
May 28, 2008: Acquired RHP Jared Wells from San Diego for RHP Cha Seun Baek.
It’s not a distinguised list. A lot of nothing-for-nothing trades, a lot of deals that backfired, and not much quality in return for the Mariners.
M’s fans have to hope that Zduriencik proves to be a more adept sleuth of talent — and the early returns are promising.